Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Thoughts on RASEL strategy

What is RASEL? Libertarian socialist school?

The question, 'what is RASEL?' has been raised a lot recently. My initial idea is that we should think of ourselves as a 'libertarian socialist school'. Firstly, let’s look at the 'libertarian socialist' (libsoc) aspect. For me, 'libsoc' means two things. Firstly, it means aiming to take action to create non-oppressive social institutions that manage society in a way which supports human flourishing (replacing the state, capitalism, patriarchy, racism, etc.). Secondly, it means organising in a way which reflects our values as far as possible (i.e. in a non-oppressive, inclusive, supportive way). As we've discussed, this dual goal of promoting social transformation whilst organising in a 'prefigurative' way (trying to create the future society in the present) is a traditional libertarian socialist aim. The 'school' aspect of the 'libsoc school' means that we help each other learn about (including through action) how systems of oppression work and how best to take action in pursuit of a libsoc society, paying attention to the successes and failures of other groups, as well as our own experiences.

External project ideas

If our goal is creating a libsoc society, our primary aim should be building or laying the foundations of participatory, inclusive social institutions that can manage society in line with our principles. Here are some projects which I think can help build or support these institutions, some of which we've already started working on:
* Supporting wage-place (AKA workplace) organising.
* Building or supporting alternative 'prefigurative spaces' such as the field, community gardens, co-ops, green energy projects etc.
* Apply popular pressure on local and national governments to devolve power downwards through participatory budgeting, and then we encourage marginalised people to participate.
* Propaganda/media work.
* Radical education projects and debate/discussion societies for everyone.
* Helping people organise collective direct actions such as eviction resistance or rent strikes or other political events - and trying to get them to form or join long-term organisations.
*Try to make our work replicable or scalable by creating written processes which others can use. 
*Networking with similar organisations on projects throughout London, the country, and eventually overseas, building a framework for organising joint actions effectively, and becoming capable of acting in moments of economic/social collapse to fill the void with a libsoc order.
* Community stalls to inform our work from the street level and also spread our ideas.

Noting that there are already groups doing similar type things, in terms of external actions which will come out of RASEL, I think there are three categories:
1) RASEL 'students' support projects or join groups we think are good (e.g. we might decide to help Solfed with a project). [Note that in this scenario, if people only come to a few meetings but it inspires them to move on to something else that is in line with our goals, we would have been successful.]

2) We change the way outside groups or projects function. For example, we might bring new meeting processes to outside groups we're involved with which we learn from RASEL. Or outside groups might hear about us and copy aspects of what we do, as other RA groups have done already.

3) We start new projects where we think there is a gap. Examples include the abortion clinic, college, and library projects.

What can RASEL contribute that isn't already out there? 

1. There are lots of political groups which only want change within the current system, or reject visions of systemic change on principle. Or they don't think of strategies for creating systemic change. RASEL can offer a (libsoc) vision and strategic ideas for creating change. 

2. There are groups (and individuals) which have a libsoc vision or strategies but don't have a localised network like the RA does.  We can use this network to both spread and feed into libsoc ideas and practices. We could eventually seek to decentralise even further.

Interested in other people's thoughts.   

Friday, 6 November 2015

Thoughts from facilitation training

The Radical Assembly had facilitation training on Tuesday. It doesn't sound like the most exciting thing in the world but Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the housing co-op network, Radical Roots, gave the training and some interesting questions came up. 

How do we introduce ourselves?
Roger explained that a good facilitator will introduce the meeting by saying what the group is, some guidelines we use to conduct meetings, and what the meeting is for. This is so that newcomers or people that have been out of the loop for a while get a better grasp of what is going on. And it helps give guidance to the meeting. As far as I'm aware we skip the first part in RASEL of explaining what we are. I think this is because we haven't fully agreed as a group. I suspect answering the question 'What is RASEL?'  will help us clarify with each other what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. And this will help us have more productive meetings. Hopefully, agreeing the flier text will help with this. There has also been talk of a strategy day, which I think might be helpful.

Exclusion and common knowledge 
We spent most of the workshop practising dealing with problem behaviours during the training. I've been told that we are quite 'on it' in RASEL in terms of not being exclusionary or oppressive in terms of gender, although at times we have slipped up. But one thing Roger highlighted was that activist groups can also be exclusionary by using lots of technical political language. I imagine this also includes taking for granted that people will understand political arguments on a range of social issues from immigration, to gender, to parliamentary politics, to economics and so on. And being snobbish about people that don't approach each issue from the most radical angle is a common complaint of leftist groups. I'm not sure how far this is a problem in RASEL but it’s something else to consider and keep an eye on. Especially if we wish to keep newer people engaged.  

I do think in RASEL we've been addressing this to a large extent by engaging in self-education so that there are not a few leaders with far broader political knowledge than others. There are plans to record some of the discussions in some way on the website for new people, which I think will also be useful.

Facilitation training and compulsory empowerment?
Roger also explained that one of the reasons Radical Roots expanded to dozens of groups quickly, was that each new member of the network had to have facilitation training. It was compulsory for people to be empowered this way. The result was that people gained an insight on how to have productive meetings and the organisation's cohesion was very strong. I am personally quite receptive of the idea of at least encouraging all people involved in RASEL to get facilitation training. I'd also be interested in refresher training sessions for experienced facilitators. This isn't just to make sure meetings are as high quality as possible (my experience is meetings work best when everyone supports in facilitation. We could also use such trainings to reconsider and update our meeting processes and guidelines). It is also to help empower people in RASEL in whichever way we can. For example, it is a skill that can be used by individuals when engaged in local campaigns with outside groups. I'd be interested in a group training event every few months or so.

Thoughts welcome.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Lessons from Radical Assembly 4

Here is my brief summary of the day.

1. Reports from regional groups
We started the day with reports from regional groups on what we have achieved since May. Without wishing to criticise the other groups, I felt RASEL has achieved the most. In particular, I think our self-education and process-building (largely unique to us, it seems - although others have begun to follow suit) has started to lay the basis for an extremely effective revolutionary organisation. Also, I feel our planned projects of a stall, continuing film nights, library campaign, community assembly work, and solidarity with Bahar, sounded more exciting than the support for outside campaigns which other groups seem to be focussed on. We also seem to be by far the biggest group, and have very low turnover in comparison to the others.    

2. Ideas from Mary, Jen and Anna [names changed]
After the report-back from the groups we split into small groups to talk about how to develop the assemblies. The three people I talked to (all from SE London but not involved in activism) all had ideas which I found really useful. The main theme was that we need to make it EASIER for people to get involved. They want to do stuff but it is often difficult. Particular suggestions include:
(a) Making it easy for people to do actions close to where they live - they don't want to travel far to do actions.
(b) Being more welcoming to newbies, including having more welcoming attitudes and having info materials to help people get up to speed.
(c) More advertising - e.g. posters in Peckham Rye, using Meet-Up, and an events forum/calendar.
(d) Have someone responsible for outreach.
(I also took the note that we need to 'sort out Facebook page', as they had ideas for this, but unfortunately I can't remember the details.)

I agree with all of these ideas, and think we've discussed a lot of it before, and think we should look at them further as a group.

3. Direct action workshops and anti-fascism
We split into about eight groups to have direct action workshops. Workshops were held on a range of issues from environmental activism to sex worker organising. I ended up at the antifascist workshop - one of many topics I know very little about. I learnt that whilst the fascist threat remains small, it is growing.  100 fascists recently marched in Dover and were unable to be stopped. I also learned that there is a lot more to anti-fascism than the street clashes that get filmed for TV. The London anti-fascists engage in a range of educational and public relations work, as well as covert intelligence gathering and sabotage of fascist networks. They also provide training and services to other movements, including recently the Focus E15 mums. Lots of people involved in anti-fascism do this broader work and not the street mobilisations. 

One thing I find very interesting about ant-fascism is that because of the dangers anti-fascists face, in order to maximise safety, they are often forced to use leftist principles in the most extreme ways. For example, the principle of solidarity becomes hyper important in the streets - i.e. you need to literally make the most solid physical block possible - when defending each other against violent fascists. I also like that the anti-fascists have to combine their left-wing (often anarchist) principles, with extremely thorough preparation and organisation in everything they do - an ethos many leftist organisations could probably learn from.

London Antifascists will be giving a training in Goldsmiths College on Oct 25th and I think it would be a great learning experience if a lot of us from RASEL could attend. Alternatively, we might be able to organise our own training.  

When we first set up RASEL, I was scared by how much work we had facing us if we were to build a strong, effective organisation, and it sometimes still intimidates me. However, RA4 was a good chance to take stock of all we've achieved so far and provided plenty of ideas for us to be able to carry on developing and moving forwards. So I found it a rewarding experience. See you soon.